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The inspiring legacy of Kelowna's 'Father of Ogopogo'

Peter Nicu was born in the Ukraine in 1920 and died in Kelowna in 2013.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Ray Taheri

A Kelowna man is taking an 80-pound bronze bust to Romania to fulfill a promise to a friend he made a decade ago.

Ray Taheri, an engineering professor at UBC’s Okanagan campus, has the bust of the late Peter Nicu, who was once known in the Okanagan as the Father of Ogopogo.

“I finally get to fulfill my promise to him,” Taheri said. “He wanted me to look after his estate and finally the court decided to release the funds in 2019 but then COVID broke and I couldn’t travel.”

Taheri is travelling overseas to set the statue up in Romania near a children's centre and disperse the estate funds to children in need in Romania, Ukraine and Moldova as promised.

Taheri said Nicu, who died in 2013 at age 92, led an incredible life and left a legacy of hope and perseverance.

“He was born in the Ukraine in 1920 as an only child to a poor family with an abusive, alcoholic father,” Taheri said. “The father was in charge of a lighthouse and passed the job to Peter when he was just the age of seven. One day Peter asked his father if he wanted a son and his father said ‘no’.”

Taheri said when Nicu was just ten years old he stole a loaf of bread from his family and ran away to a nearby train station in Odessa where he snuck into a cabin onboard. When the train came to a stop, Nicu found himself in a city in Romania, unable to speak the language and hungry, cold and tired.

“He was in the city for a day or two then passed out in front of a flour mill,” Taheri said. “The Russian owner took him in and revived him. Peter worked at the mill for a few years cleaning machinery and taking sacks of flour out. He learned about mechanics and was thought of as a genius.”

Bronze bust of Kelowna's late Peter Nicu, created by artist Stephanie Hunter.
Bronze bust of Kelowna's late Peter Nicu, created by artist Stephanie Hunter.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Ray Taheri

Nicu was sent to engineering college in the Romanian Air Force where he later graduated and joined the force as an officer until WWII started.  

“The Germans captured the station and killed his friends, but they kept him alive because he was brilliant and worked for the Germans for a few years until he was released.”

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Nicu and his wife moved to Kelowna in the early 70s, where he became known as the Father of Ogopogo when, at the request of the City of Kelowna, he engineered and built an amphibious mechanical Ogopogo which was presented for many years in Kelowna parades. He also engineered an Ogopogo statue. 

Taheri said his late friend provided philanthropic services to his community and brought a lot of joy and entertainment with his Ogopogo-shaped vehicle.

“He was one of the most eccentric people I’ve met in my life and his life story should be in a book or movie or something,” Taheri said. “He was born in the same city as my wife. We met years ago and created a profound bond, he was a grandfather figure to me.” 

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The bust was made by American artist Stephanie Hunter.

Undated photo of an Ogopogo float created by Peter Nicu in Kelowna.
Undated photo of an Ogopogo float created by Peter Nicu in Kelowna.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Ray Taheri

He has a second bust in his home in Kelowna and will set it up somewhere in the city in the future.

“I think young people should remember that if someone with so much disadvantage can make it, they have no excuse,” Taheri said. “Life has so much for us to take, we need to find our own key to open the door.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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